APPLETON – Mayor Jake Woodford and city staff have recommended using $2 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to help pay for the renovation and expansion of the Appleton Public Library.
The money could cover cost overruns if the library exceeds its $26.4 million budget, or the money could lower the local tax burden if the project comes within budget.
“It could supplement (the budget), but it also could reduce the borrowing,” Woodford told The Post-Crescent. “It’s not been determined at this point so relatively early in the design process and in cost estimation.”
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is a $1.9 trillion package designed to facilitate the nation’s recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It authorizes substantial aid to local governments, including $14.9 million to Appleton.
That’s a slight increase from an earlier estimate of $14.76 million.
Woodford and Appleton Finance Director Tony Saucerman recommended that Appleton’s total be channeled through two city budgets: $6.9 million in the 2021 budget and $8 million in the 2022 budget.
The $2 million for the library would be part of the 2021 budget amendment. Other allocations for the 2021 funds include $2 million for future COVID-19 expenditures, $1.5 million for Appleton’s parking utility and $1 million for replacing lead water pipes.
The Finance Committee reviewed and endorsed the 2021 package Monday. It will be considered by the Common Council on Oct. 20.
The ARPA money must be spent by the end of 2024.
Woodford said local governments have taken various approaches for the use of ARPA funds. Some have focused on municipal projects. Others have targeted programming or debt reduction.
“We tried to gather as much community input as we could,” Woodford said. “We put together a list of recommendations that tries to make headway on a variety of community and municipal priorities.”
Council member Matt Reed, following a suggestion by council member Sheri Hartzheim, sought to amend the plan to retain the $1.5 million for the parking utility and $1 million for the lead pipe replacement program but to use the remaining ARPA funds to pay for the construction of a second raw water line from Lake Winnebago to the water treatment plant. The $9.8 million project is scheduled for 2023.
The water project, though, normally would be funded by water customers. If Appleton were to pay for the project with ARPA funds, it would be subsidizing wholesale water customers in Grand Chute, Harrison and Sherwood. Together, they total about 30% of revenues.
“Those wholesale customers wouldn’t be paying their portion,” Appleton Utilities Director Chris Shaw said.
Once that became clear, Reed withdrew his amendment.
Council member Brad Firkus supported the allocations as recommended by Woodford.
“At the end of the day, we live in a community and not a spreadsheet, and we need to invest in some of those things that make our community a more livable and more enjoyable place,” Firkus said.
$2 million for the library
The library money is categorized under broadband access and information infrastructure, which is an allowable ARPA use.
Woodford and Saucerman said in a memorandum to the council that the investment would “provide better internet and information access to our residents.”
$2 million for COVID-19 response
Appleton has allocated or spent nearly all of the previous grants it received to support its COVID-19 response, so the additional $2 million would ensure the city can continue to respond to the pandemic.
Covered expenses would be comparable to those under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act: personal protective equipment, contact investigation, disease mitigation, testing and vaccination operations, and personnel costs for public health and safety employees.
$1.5 million for parking utility
ARPA funds can be used by municipalities to replace lost revenue, and the Appleton operation suffering the greatest revenue loss was the parking utility. Employees who normally would park downtown have been working from home during the pandemic.
“It should cover most of the lost revenues,” Saucerman said. “It may not cover everything, but it would get us back on solid footing.”
$1 million for lead abatement
Appleton has a program to replace public lead water service lines, and the ARPA funds would empower the city to finish the job.
“Staff believes this allocation would enable abatement of all known remaining public lead service lines in the city of Appleton,” Woodford and Saucerman said. “If there are any remaining funds after lead service lines are addressed, those funds would be directed to eligible sewer/water infrastructure projects.”
$250,000 for community partners
Most of the ARPA support for community partners and programs would come through the 2022 budget. The $250,000 is designed to respond to immediate needs.
“Our focus here will be on not-for-profit organizations that bolster the local economy, community wellness and pandemic recovery,” Woodford said.
$150,000 for consulting and administration
The ARPA expenditures, particularly those in 2022, would require the development of application processes, performance documentation and compliance reporting.